What are Tree Crops?
When we think of crops we often imagine fields of grains and vegetables, not forests of trees. Most tree crops planted in the US are comprised of large plantations of pines for lumber, or orchards of fruits and nuts raised for the commercial market. Monoculture cropping requires the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides for a large harvest. This is not a viable option for the survivalist.
The long term prepper needs to diversify their resources as much as possible to prepare for an uncertain future. Planting a variety of trees now for lumber, firewood, and food will contribute to survival later. If you are planning to live off of your property, it’s important to start this project as soon as possible because many of these trees take years to mature and produce.
What Crops Come From Trees?
- Maple and Birch syrup
- Roots, bark, needles and twigs for tea and flavorings
Fruit Trees for Preparedness
You may be thinking citrus, apples, peaches, and pears when you think of fruits. Those are all great for your home orchard and I highly recommend planting as many of these garden variety fruits as you can. But don’t limit yourself to common crops. There is a whole world of wild fruit that will provide food for your family, livestock, and wild game. Serviceberry, mulberry, paw paw, hawthorne, crabapple, and black cherry provide food that many people overlook. Fruits can be dehydrated or canned to preserve them for winter. Stocking up on these valuable sources of nutrition will help you prepare for TEOTWAWKI, but planting the trees will give you a fresh supply when your stores dry up.
Nut Trees For Survival
Walnuts, pecans, pistachios, and almonds are common nuts that provide protein, calories and fat for the survivalist. Diversify your nut crops to include chestnut, oak, beechnut, locust, American hazelnut, pine nut, sweet gum, and butternut. Some of these will store well through the winter and provide calories, vitamins, and minerals when they are needed most. Native Americans stored dried nuts for a source of protein during the winter. Not only will these trees provide edible nuts, but they will also fatten pigs, chickens, and turkeys for your table. For more info, check out this video about feeding acorns to your chickens.
What Other Trees Provide Food?
Trees such as maple, birch, and box elder produce sweet sap that can be tapped in late winter for a high calorie survival food. You can drink the sap straight from the tree, but don’t store it for more than a day or so, as the sugars will ferment and mold. The sap can also be boiled down into syrup to keep a few weeks longer. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup. Boil the sap outside or your whole shelter will be dripping wet from the condensation. For long term storage, bring the temperature of the syrup up to 45 degrees Fahrenheit above boiling, then cool. This produces maple candy, a welcome treat at a time of year when snow is still covering the ground and food is scarce.
Sassafras, White pine, Canadian hemlock, and Eastern red cedar can be used by the survivalist for vitamins during the winter. The roots of the sassafras are used for flavoring root beer and tea. Chewing the needles of pine and hemlock will provide vitamin c at a time when there are few sources available in the wild. Tea can be brewed from their needles along with the silvery blue ‘berries’ of the Eastern red cedar. These have a very pungent flavor and are used in the production of gin.
Trees for First Aid and Poison
Other trees produce medicines and and even poisons that are useful for survivalists. Be sure you know the difference. The leaves of the sweet gum tree have antibacterial properties when crushed and used as a poultice. Willow twigs can be chewed for their pain relieving properties. Take care not to use willow if you have internal bleeding or an open wound. Willow is the natural form of aspirin and thins the blood. Chewing on willow to relieve the pain from a deep wound could cause you to bleed to death. Resin from pine, spruce, and fir trees can be used to seal small wounds, as well as start fires and waterproof canoes.
If you have Black walnuts, not only can you eat the nuts, but you can crush the green outer hull and use it to paralyze fish. The Ohio buckeye was also used by Eastern Woodland tribes to poison fish. The buckeyes were crushed and added to a dammed section of stream. The paralyzed fish floated to the surface for an easy source of protein. All parts of the Ohio Buckeye are poisonous. (For a great article about spear fishing check out Dave’s article SHTF Food – Spearfishing!)
The diversity of a healthy woodlot can provide for many of our needs, if we know how to use the species to our advantage. Invest in a good tree identification book and know your tree species before you start nibbling on nuts and berries in the woods.
Wouldn’t Grain Provide More Food Than Trees?
Our culture has grown accustomed to eating grains as a major part of our diet. Grains require flat, open spaces with good soil and plenty of sun to produce a decent harvest. The soil is worked in the spring, seed is planted, and the grain must be tended through the growing season. This requires a great deal of work that is usually done with tractors and large machinery. If fuel is unobtainable, a team of horses or oxen could work the land for you. In turn they will need a great deal of the grain to sustain them through the winter. All of this depends entirely on having a settled homestead with a house and a barn for livestock, a secure place to store grain, and an abundant source of water for your work animals. If all hell breaks loose, you may not have the luxury of staying in one place throughout the year. Having the ability to identify wild edibles may be your ticket to survival.
And even if you are able to hunker down on your remote property, what if the terrain is unsuitable for grains? Steep slopes will wash away when tilled for an annual crop like corn. Trees, however, prevent erosion and take little effort on your part other than watering them the year they are planted. They may take years to mature and produce harvests, but once established they will provide you with low maintenance crops year after year. You need only harvest the fruits and nuts at the proper time and prepare them for storage. There is no tilling, no fertilizing, and no team of horses to care for.
Planting grain each year depletes the soil of nutrients, and makes crop rotation necessary. Modern grain production is heavily dependent on genetically modified seed, herbicides, insecticides, and chemical fertilizers. The only substitute available for the survivalist will be manure and compost, and that will not support the yields big agriculture expects today. Trees, however, will pull minerals from the subsoil and shed leaves that decompose and increase the fertility of the soil. Grain crops also rely on saved seed for future plantings and frequent rains for their shallow root system. Drought, disease, and insects can wreak havoc on the grain crop, while those with a diverse woodlot are more likely to have harvests from some species of tree each year for a variety of fruits, nuts, and greens. These will, in turn, provide a more nutritionally complete diet than a field of corn or wheat.
Using Trees for Raw Materials
Not only are trees an abundant source of food, but they also supply us with the raw materials for shelter and tools. Our ancestors relied heavily on trees. Long before the first farmers began planting grains, people were eating nuts, seeds, and fruits from the forests. They used branches and bark to construct homes. Fires were fueled by trees and new tools created from them. Snares, spears, bow and arrows created from wood allowed humans to hunt more successfully. Rafts and boats allowed them to fish and travel to new lands. Before horses were reintroduced to North America, the Plains Indians constructed the travois to pull their belongings behind dogs. All of these uses could be considered ‘harvesting’ from trees to survive in a hostile world.
If our world falls apart and the fields of grain are left barren, we will have only weeds and scrub to survive on. Planting a diversity of tree crops today can provide you with the tools, shelter, firewood, and food that you need to survive tomorrow. Stay tuned for articles about the best trees for survival.
*Note: Before you eat any wild or unknown plant material, consult an identification book and make a positive i.d. of the plant in question. It’s hard to survive economic collapse if you eat toxic plant materials. Be safe!